Monday, November 17, 2003

On Social Critics

I think that I have finally found my dream career. For many years I grieved over the fact that since I was a goddess, they didn't also let me be the oracle of Delphi. (Oracles of Delphi were ancient Greek prophetesses who are famous for their nonergonomic work environment. This consisted of a cave to receive petitioners in, a tripod to sit on and noxious vapors to inhale.) The most imbecile utterances of an oracle used to be listened to with great reverence, but she still wasn't held responsible for the negative consequences of carrying them out in practice. She was always seen as right. This was the role I was born for, not the job of some lowly snake goddess.

Well, something almost as good as the oracle's job has been created in the last few years: the occupation of a cultural critic. Anybody can become one, or so it seems to me. A background in some of the social sciences might be desirable but doesn't seem to be a formal requirement. Knowledge of statistics is certainly not required. Neither are cultural critics held to the boring, limiting rules of "proper" research protocols. No need to worry about the difference between correlation and causation. No need to qualify any conclusions not based on empirical evidence. No need to avoid sweeping generalizations, naive simplifications and biased interpretations. What bliss!

This job was made for me. I can profess to the world all my pet peeves, and as long as there is smoke and vapors of pseudoscience the world will listen. I can take the word "culture" and make it a monolithic concept loaded with any adjectives I currently hate, and condemn vast groups of people with just a few well-framed sentences. I can choose any historical period I like, cut out the parts of it I dislike (say, petty wars) and remake the rest into a Rudyard Kipling "JustSo" story. And people will actually pay attention to me!

Why wasn't this job invented earlier, instead of the boring jobs of researchers? They could have avoided years of tedious study, analysis and mental discipline. More importantly, their academic writing would have immensely benefited from the freedom to dispense with the antiquated rules that all evidence should be considered and that alternative theories must not suppressed. And think of the stylistic improvements that would have been possible by being able to get rid of all those annoying little qualifiers: "some people", "sometimes", "one of the many reasons"...

Still, better late than never, both for me and the researchers. Cultural criticism, here I come! My tripod is on order, the noxious vapors are arriving by UPS next Monday and the cave facsimile in my study is nearly complete. All that is now missing are the adulators.